The David Thompson Highway is a long ways from Canmore. A good 3 hour drive in good winter conditions. This makes it hard to reach a long climb for the pre-dawn approach that is required at this time of the year.
We thought we'd make the drive worthwhile by trying to get two or three long climbs in over three days. This meant staying somewhere for two nights. There are a few HI hostels along the Icefields Parkway and the David Thompson Highway. We considered the Rampart Creek hostel, about 11 km north of the Saskatchewan Crossing, but at $22CDN per person, per night, they do not have showers... The Shunda Creek hostel, on the other hand, offers showers, a hot tub, and an ice climbing wall, all for less than the Rampart hostel. Easy choice, although it is a bit out of the way, a good 51km (32 miles) from the easternmost climb along the D.T. highway.
The first day, we traveled from Canmore and had a very late start on Murchison Falls, a good looking flow on the west face of Mount Murchison, just a few km south of the Saskatchewan crossing. We finished the descent in the dark and didn't make it to the hostel before 10:30PM, wasted. No way were we getting up before dawn for another climb the next day! Rest day it is. We had a late breakfast, then drove back along the D.T. Highway to the Parkway, and north to the Weeping wall, just to check on the ice conditions on the numerous climbs along the way. It was a very cold day. Easily -28C at the parking area for the weeping wall. We particularly scoped a great line along the David Thompson: "Kitty Hawk", a striking 5-pitch WI5 in a recess on the east face of Mount Elliot. It is reputed to be (and looks like!) the hardest and best climb in the area. Unfortunately, there is still a fair amount of snow hanging above the route and the route itself is in a major terrain trap. We'll give it some more time.
The next day, it is the early morning routine again to go climb another D.T. line called "Nothing but the Breast". It is primarily a single pitch WI4+ pillar but requires a 2 to 3 pitch "approach" on low angle but very thin WI2 slabs. Fortunately, this climbs gets some sunshine in the morning, which should help us deals with the frigid temperatures on this gorgeous clear day (-25C).
It is an easy and short approach to the base of the slabs, which we find quite thin but straightforward. The real climbing on this route is the upper pillar, which goes at about WI4+ for a full pitch. Really fun climbing and very good ice thanks to the sun! Three quick raps from trees and we're back at our packs. An easy and enjoyable day! Quite a change from Murchison Falls just two days ago.
Nothing but the Breast, D.T. Hwy, AB
|We spent the night and a rest day at the Shunda Creek Hostel, near Nordegg. A good place.|
|Breakfast in style.|
|Yep, that's an ice wall in the background!|
|Rocky Mountain Sheep.|
|"Nothing but the Breast" follows thin low-angle slabs to a steep pillar.|
|Going up the slabs. Little pro but little need.|
|Lucie starting up a short third pitch to the pillar.|
|The "raison d'être" for the climb: the upper pillar.|
|Starting the good stuff.|
|Getting some rays! Feels really good in -25C weather.|
|Gorgeous sunny day; looking east beyond the Highway.|
|The upper pillar is worth it.|